Publicist, Communications Specialist, Corporate Communications Specialist, Media Relations Specialist, Public Affairs Specialist, Public Information Officer, Public Information Specialist, Public Relations Coordinator (PR Coordinator)
In today’s world of social media and interconnectedness, individuals and organizations often live under a constant spotlight. For the purposes of marketing and brand awareness, that’s a good thing, because it can lead to increased sales and revenue. Of course, operating under such enhanced scrutiny has its downsides, too. Mistakes and gaffes can spread quickly, causing public embarrassment.
Public Relations Specialists exist to help people and organizations ensure they are presenting the best version of themselves to the world. Their work can shape and boost public perceptions, focusing on positive messaging while mitigating less desired attention. A savvy PR Specialist facilitates incredible business growth for their clients, and also salvages damaged reputations that have caused clients to lose opportunities.
- Bolstering the careers and reputations of clients, from individuals to groups and large organizations
- Reaping financial rewards alongside clients
- Being involved in the behind-the-scenes world of public relations and shaping perceptions and opinions
- Public Relations Specialists work full-time and often “overtime.” Firms or company PR departments may employ them. Some work independently. Their schedules must be flexible to accommodate the needs of their clients, and travel may be necessary occasionally.
- Help clients identify and present the attributes they want the public to recognize and appreciate
- Engage with media outlets on behalf of clients
- Answer requests for information in a timely fashion
- Assist clients with polishing their image and communications skills
- Ghostwrite draft speeches and correspondence for clients to review, edit, and share as their own words
- Write press releases for various outlets
- Develop trusting relationships with media and corporate contacts
- Coach clients on how to properly convey sentiments in a way that achieves desired outcomes
- Consult on physical aspects of personal branding and presentations, including a client’s hairstyle, wardrobe, eye contact, posture, movement, and speech
- Create successful interviewing strategies, including holding mock interviews
- Review past and current popular opinions being presented by the media, including social media
- Work to enhance positive perceptions, build on strengths, and garner reviews and engagement from the client’s audience, customers, fans, or followers
- Look at existing branding and advertising to assess current suitability
- Keep clients “out of trouble” by helping them understand how their words and actions carry consequences
- Remind clients that in today’s age of smartphones, the Internet, and social media, they must stay constantly vigilant about what they say and do in public
- Devise actionable steps to best address public criticism or negative attention (via “crisis communications” plans)
- Help clients stay flexible and ready to adapt to sudden changes, so they can capitalize on opportunities and be prepared to tackle problems
- Attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Negotiation skills
- Networking skills
- Public speaking
- Sound judgment
- Thinking on one’s feet
- Creative and technical writing skills
- Deep understanding of all forms of media from radio and TV to newspapers, websites, social media, etc.
- Familiarity with social media platforms and uses
- Knowledge of brand and marketing principles
- Knowledge of software for:
- Cloud-based sharing
- Customer relationship management
- Data mining/analytics
- Desktop publishing
- Graphics and imaging
- Project management
- Video creation
- Website creation
Public Relations Specialists are trusted by large and small clients to manage and boost reputations. For businesses, this is often to increase revenue, meaning there could be a lot of money at stake. If a company has invested tons of capital into an endeavor, it needs the best PR to help ensure success and Return on Investment.
Meanwhile, if a company is involved in a negative incident making the rounds in headlines and viral social media, PR reps have to swoop in for damage control. Per PWC, “32% of all customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience.” So, for larger companies with 24/7 global operations, this could mean needing a PR Specialist “on call” to address urgent matters.
By the same token, many high-net-worth private individuals (such as celebrities) employ PR experts for the same services. When the client is a sole individual, the PR Specialist has more time to learn that person’s brand so they can tailor a unique, customized plan of action for them. However, they must also be able to deal with the client’s personal habits, attitudes, moods, and eccentricities. Consider singer Christina Aguilera’s contract rider, which states that while en route to a show, she should have a police escort and that “under no circumstances are the vehicles to be allowed to encounter any delays due to traffic.”
Thanks to ‘round-the-clock news coverage and social media, the words and deeds of well-known persons and organizations can now be scrutinized, reported on, and shared 24/7. There are pros and cons to this level of ongoing analysis. Savvy opportunists can take advantage of the phenomenon to raise awareness of their products or services and enhance their brand value. But PR Specialists must find ways to navigate their clients under this constant limelight.
These days, brand reputation is critical, financial stakes are high, and situations can turn on a dime with devastating consequences. For example, a company that was trusted yesterday might be demonized by the end of today (see Forbes’ How United Became The World's Most Hated Airline In One Day). Or a celebrity known for their friendly persona can seriously harm their reputation in an instant, with one high-publicized incident (see Variety’s Can Will Smith Recover From the Oscars Slap Fallout?).
Other PR trends include brand collaborations, data-driven decision-making, and increased focus on ethical purposes. In addition, clients are being advised to consider engagement over promotion, leverage the power of podcasts, utilize more visual content, and market via smaller influencers.
Psychology has a big part to play in PR, and specialists may have been interested in learning how to influence people’s thinking and opinions. In their younger days, they may have enjoyed watching compelling commercials or admiring eye-catching ads, while trying to break down what made those things so entertaining. PR Specialists probably loved to engage with social media growing up. They paid attention to how fickle public opinion is and how quickly it can shift. They took note of marketing successes and humiliating failures, often initiated by a single viral post.
- Public Relations Specialists usually complete a bachelor’s in communications, business, or social sciences
- Many also complete an internship where they learn valuable practical skills
- Some obtain a professional certification, such as:
PR Specialists are often major in communications, business, or social sciences, all of which are conducive to online or hybrid learning. Look for programs that are accredited and, ideally, list graduation rates and stats about post-grad employment.
Public Relations students have tons of educational opportunities, ranging from online and hybrid courses to full-time, on-campus programs at great schools around the country. You can use U.S. News Colleges Offering a Public Relations Major as a solid launch pad for your program search.
- Stock up on classes related to economics, business, math, English, speech, debate, psychology, and marketing
- Join debate teams to get experience speaking in public and under pressure
- Volunteer for school activities where you can learn about teamwork, leadership, conflict resolution, and project management
- Apply for PR-related internships in related firms or departments
- Look for PR program scholarships to help take off the financial burden of school
- Examine case studies about the PR successes and failures of famous individuals and companies
- Ask a PR Specialist if you can shadow them while they work
- Read PR blogs by experts in the field
- Take Udemy ad hoc courses to brush up on areas of specialization
- Treat yourself as a client! Create a personal brand around yourself and grow your reputation and influence online
- Knock out additional certifications to boost your resume and credentials
- Read through job ads in advance, to make sure you are gaining the right experiences
- Try to turn an internship at a PR firm or department into a full-time job
- Sign up for alerts on popular job portals like ZipRecruiter, SimplyHired, Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor
- Polish up your LinkedIn profile and grow your network
- Launch your own website and social media accounts to advertise your work and experiences
- Offer freelance services through platforms like Upwork or Fiverr
- Show off your writing credentials by getting published on Huffpost, Inc., Forbes, or other sites
- Grow your influence on sites like LinkedIn and Quora
- Ask everyone in your network for tips about job openings
- Reach out to former professors and supervisors to see if they’ll serve as personal references
- Knock out a professional certification like the Public Relations Society of America’s Accreditation in Public Relations
- Utilize your school’s career center for help with resumes and mock interviews
- Learn how to make an amazing first impression!
- Check out Public Relations Specialist resume samples
- Review Indeed’s How to Dress for an Interview
- If you work for a firm or PR department, the best way to climb the ladder is to do awesome work managing your clients’ reputations
- Be a professional capable of handling big-name clients
- Always stay calm under pressure. Don’t lose your cool — even when others around you might be! You’re the one who has to hold things together
- Know your trade inside and out. Always keep honing your PR skills
- Consider finishing a graduate degree. Per O*Net, 8% of PR Specialists hold a master’s
- Stay up-to-date on new ways and platforms to expand positive press and raise awareness about clients
- Sign up for additional certifications to help you stand out from the crowd
- Treat everyone with dignity and respect, and build your reputation on integrity
- Maintain positive control over your clients. Earn their trust and respect, so they’ll listen to your advice
- Be prepared for all contingencies! Have an action plan to deal with negative press circulating
- Have discussions with your supervisor about promotions. Demonstrate loyalty to your firm or department so they’ll treat you well and consider you for advancement
- If the need arises, apply for jobs with other companies that can take you where you want to go, but never burn bridges with prior employers
- American Advertising Federation
- American Marketing Association
- City-County Communications and Marketing Association
- Council for Advancement and Support of Education
- Institute for Public Relations
- International Association of Business Communicators
- National Council for Marketing and Public Relations
- National School Public Relations Association
- Public Relations Society of America
- Public Relations Student Society of America
- A Modern Guide to Public Relations: Unveiling the Mystery of PR: Including Content Marketing, SEO, Social Media & PR Best Practices, by Amy Rosenberg
- Public Relations For Dummies, by Eric Yaverbaum, Ilise Benun, et al.
- The Art of Executive Appearance: 5 Simple Ways to Impress on Camera and Inspire a Global Television Audience, by Yousef Gamal El-Din
- This Is How You Pitch: How To Kick Ass In Your First Years of PR, by Ed Zitron and Warren Ellis
Public Relations Specialists often operate under a lot of pressure. Much is expected from them to help promote clients and increase visibility and earnings. Meanwhile, when an unexpected crisis arises, the PR rep is the first person looked at to “fix” the problem (at least, from the perspective of public perception).
While the excitement can be addictive for some, many workers prefer to consider alternative career options with fewer potential ups-and-downs, such as:
- Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers
- Advertising Sales Agents
- Communications Specialists
- Corporate Communications Specialists
- Market Research Analysts
- Media Relations Specialists
- Public Affairs Specialists
- Public Information Officers
- Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives